Local man spreads myeloma awareness

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Farmington Press | Published March 25, 2013

FARMINGTON HILLS — At 52 years old, John Ricco was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. More than 12 years later, the Farmington Hills resident has dedicated himself to helping others afflicted with the rare form of cancer.

It was 2000, during a routine checkup, when Ricco was told he had the incurable cancer, which affects bone marrow cells and blood cell production. For others, though, diagnosis tends to come later, after they experience symptoms like anemia, infections, bone lesions, vertebral compressions, osteoporosis, severe pain and kidney dysfunction. Since his diagnosis, Ricco has been treated for myeloma three times, as relapse is common for patients with the disease.

“I’ve been blessed to make it this far — almost 13 years,” said Ricco, who finished his most recent relapse treatment in February 2012. “It’s about sticking around to make it to the next protocol, the next treatment. Relapse is inevitable; it’s not going to go away. There’s been six new drugs spread out between 2003 and now. That’s helping people. It gives them more bullets, so to speak, for when they relapse.”

The recurring cancer and its devastating symptoms haven’t stopped Ricco over the years from doing his part to increase awareness of multiple myeloma. He’s the leader of the Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit Multiple Myeloma Support Group, and he and his wife organized a cancer support group at St. Fabian in Farmington Hills. 

Recently, he encouraged the city of Farmington Hills to join other municipalities nationwide in declaring March 2013 Myeloma Awareness Month. Mayor Barry Brickner said Ricco’s request was one that he could relate to personally.

“I had a cousin die two years ago of multiple myeloma. It eats away at your bones, is what it does,” said Brickner, who is a survivor of prostate cancer. “The more people know there are treatments out there and help-groups out there, the faster they’ll seek treatment. Maybe it will pique their interest, and maybe they’ll go out and get tested for what ails them.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are about 100,000 people living with myeloma in the U.S., with nearly 20,000 new cases diagnosed each year. While that might seem like a substantial group of people suffering from this aggressive disease, when compared to other cancers, the number is relatively small, said Ricco. 

“We want to make people aware of this and ultimately try to generate funding from the state and national level. It’s all about funding, as it is with any cancer, and (myeloma) is kind of an orphan because it’s small compared to the bigger cancers,” said Ricco.

Brickner made the proclamation during the Farmington Hills City Council’s March 18 meeting. More than 50 cities, seven counties, Washington State and Delaware have issued similar proclamations this year, according to the International Myeloma Foundation.

“We appreciate Mayor Barry Brickner’s help in raising awareness of myeloma,” said Ricco in a prepared statement. “This recognition is important to me because it will help build awareness in the community to this disease and also perhaps trigger funding for research at the state and national level to find more therapies and ultimately a cure for myeloma.”

For more information about the International Myeloma Foundation, visit www.myeloma.org.